Sunday, March 09, 2014

Jason Lisle on Logic

One of the visitors commenting on my blog Is Jason Lisle Epistemologically Self-Conscious? provided a link to a section of comments on Jason Lisle’s blog entry titled It’s not “Human Reason vs. God’s Word”!. In the discussion found there Lisle gave an uninformed reaction to the recognition that the validity of the senses is axiomatic, which is what the visitor on my blog wanted to highlight.

I took a look at some of the other comments found on that page and saw an exchange between a commenter named Tony and Lisle on the topic of logic. I have some thoughts of my own on what Lisle has stated there.

Tony wrote:
Logical absolutes are abstract descriptions of things that exist, therefore they do not require a mind to conceive of them,
I would say that “logical absolutes” are general principles applying the law of identity to the task of identification. As Rand put it, logic is “the art of non-contradictory identification” (Atlas Shrugged). Their purpose is to form non-contradictory conceptual connections from the known to the unknown (inference), and to reduce the known to its perceptual basis (proof). We won’t learn any of this by reading the bible. Biblical authors are concerned about things like guilt, circumcision, prayer, church hierarchy, the unearned, etc., not logic.

But since logic is conceptual in nature, it certainly does require a mind to conceive them. Specifically it requires a mind capable of forming concepts from perceptual input. We know that man has this ability, and it is men which we find in existence applying logical principles to infer new knowledge from knowledge that he has already validated and to proving what he knows by reducing his knowledge to its perceptual basis. So if a mind is needed, it is a specific type of mind that is needed, and that is the type of mind that man possesses.

Meanwhile, we should note that an omniscient mind (if there were such a thing) would not have its knowledge in conceptual form. Concepts are a means of condensing a vast amount of information into units which man’s finite mind can retain and use. Since man is not directly conscious of everything in existence at all times, he needs a means of economizing what he has learned about the world by means of perception. The means by which he economizes what he has perceived are concepts.

But an omniscient mind would not need to economize what it has in its awareness, for it would be directly aware of everything in existence at all times. Specifically, it would not need to omit measurements in order to integrate specific individuals into open-ended classes. Thus, it would not need a means of condensing what it has learned in a manner that allows it to retain and use it for future use. For one, it has no needs to begin with. As John Frame puts it, “he [the Christian god] has no needs at all (Acts 17:25)” (“Divine Aseity and Apologetics,” Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, p. 115). Second, since it would already know everything already, it would not learn anything at all (which means: the Christian god, if it existed, would be unteachable). It would presumably perceive everything in existence simultaneously and forever, and thus have no need of condensing any of it for purposes of retaining it. When apologists attribute conceptual knowledge to the Christian god, they simply expose their ignorance of the objective theory of concepts. (For more on this, see my blog Would an Omniscient Mind Have Knowledge in Conceptual Form?)

In response to Tony, Lisle responded:
Then how do you account for the properties of logical absolutes?
That's easy. I account for them by the axioms, the primacy of existence, and the objective theory of concepts. Anything less would be an indication that one is not “epistemologically self-conscious.”

Lisle continued:
How do you know that they will apply in the future, or in situations that we have not yet observed?
I know this because time and place are omitted measurements. This is the same reason why I can fly to Berlin four years from now, see an adult male human being behind the immigration counter and identify him as a man. Concepts are formed in part by omitting specific measurements. The concept ‘man’ includes all human males, including individuals who are 20 years old as well as those who are 90 years old; those who are 6’5” tall as well as those who are only 5’1” tall; those who weigh 130 lbs as well as those who weigh 330 lbs; those who have light skin as well as those who have dark skin; those who have green eyes as well as those who have blue eyes; those who are doctors and those who are concert pianists; those who live in Tokyo today as well as those who lived in Egypt 4,000 years ago and those who will live in Finland 75 years from now, etc., etc. All these specifics are omitted or “despecified” when forming the concept ‘man’ (as well as with other concepts).

Notice that among those specific measurements that are omitted when forming the concept ‘man’, the specific measurements of time and place are also omitted. Logical principles are formed in the same manner. They are conceptual, not “supernatural.”

Oh, wait, was Lisle expecting me to throw up my hands and blurt out, “Duh, I donno, must be God did it!”? Suppose I did this, I’m sure he’d be ecstatic. But what would that explain? How would that address his question? How would my understanding of logic grown? What specifically would I have learned about logic? Nothing! On the contrary, I would have moved into the realm of fantasy-driven speculation, the realm of deduction without reference to reality. That’s what Lisle wants. He wants to see others sacrifice their minds. Ignorance is the doorway to mystical beliefs. Apologists want to sniff out any instance of ignorance in order to use it for their mind-negating purposes. This does not mean that we should never be ignorant; each of us will always be ignorant of many, many things (do you know how many bicycles were out on the streets of Buenos Aires yesterday?). The important point to keep in mind here is that ignorance is not a means of knowledge – it is not a means of validating appeals to the supernatural.

Tony continued:
therefore the idea that there needs to be an infinite mind to conceive of logical absolutes for them to be true everywhere is unnecessary
Of course, the notion of an “infinite mind” to begin with is already incoherent nonsense. The law of identity tells us that to exist is to be something specific. To call something a “mind” is to distinguish it from everything else. This would not be possible if what we are calling a “mind” were “infinite.” When apologists appeal to an “infinite mind,” they have already violated the law of identity and therefore have abandoned all credibility in any discussion about the nature and roots of logical principles. Again, this is what happens when thinkers fail to be “epistemologically self-conscious.”

Now consider: In response to Tony’s remarks, does Lisle question the notion of an “infinite mind”? No, he doesn’t. Rather, Lisle thinks appeals to an “infinite mind” (something we can only imagine anyway) are the only means of explaining logic. Lisle wants to explain logic by appealing to the imaginary. Observe:

Lisle responded:
Tony, you keep claiming that there is some other explanation for laws of logic besides God, but you haven't been able to provide one that consistently accounts for their universal, exception-less, invariant nature.
Again, suppose Tony had no idea how to answer these questions. How would Tony’s ignorance be relevant? Clearly Lisle thinks an individual’s ignorance is important. The god of the gaps is alive and well. Lisle’s entire apologetic is an amplification of the appeal to ignorance.

I first posted my five-part blog series on logic back in the summer of 2009 – nearly five years ago (find them here; they are collected in one spot here). I do not see where Lisle has interacted with any of it. Rather, it seems that Lisle himself is ignorant of what rational philosophy has to say on these matters. But unlike Lisle, I would not treat his ignorance of what rational philosophy says about logic as a validation of its verdicts. They can stand on their own. They do not need Lisle’s ignorance, approval, or anything else from him.

Lisle wrote:
The Christian God makes sense of the existence and properties of laws of logic,
How so? Logic is compatible only with the primacy of existence – cf. “wishing doesn’t make it so.” But Christianity clearly assumes the primacy of consciousness – e.g., “God spoke, and the universe came into being.” On Christianity’s metaphysics, wishing does make it so. Christian metaphysics is entirely incompatible with logic. It’s no surprise that the bible’s authors show no concern for logic.

Also, the Christian god is supposed to be a “Trinity,” which no theologian has been able to explain in a non-contradictory manner; they always end up retreating to “mystery.” John Frame writes (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 46):
the Christian God is a three in one. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only one God… But the Father is God…, the Son is God…, and the Spirit is God… Somehow they are three, and somehow they are one. The Nicene Creed says that they are one “being” but three “substances,” or, differently translated, one “substance” and three “persons.” I prefer simply to say “one God, three persons.” The technical terms should not be understood in any precise, descriptive sense. The fact is that we do not know precisely how the three are one and the one is three. We do know that since the three are God, they are equal; for there is no superiority or inferiority within God. To be God is to be superior to everything. All three have all the divine attributes.
Elsewhere Frame writes (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, pp. 68-69; quoting Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 230):
How, then, do we relate the “one person” to the “three persons”? Van Til asserts that “this is a mystery that is beyond our comprehension.” Indeed! But he does not say that the two assertions are contradictory. Are they in fact contradictory? That may seem obvious, but in fact it is not necessarily the case. Anybody who has studied logic knows that something can be both A and not-A if the two A’s have different senses. In this case, God can clearly be both one person and not-one person, if the meaning of “person” changes somewhat between the two uses… How is the word person used in different senses or respects? Obviously, there is some difference between the sense of “person” applied to the oneness of God and the sense applied to the three members of the Trinity. Van Til would agree, for example, with the creedal statements that the Father is the begetter, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is the one who proceeds; the whole Godhead is neither begetter, begotten, nor proceeder. But neither Van Til nor I would claim to be able to state, precisely and exhaustively, the difference between God’s essence and the individual persons of the Godhead.
So in the final analysis, as they say, the “Trinity” is simply “a mystery that is beyond our comprehension.” Even a theological heavy-weight like John Frame cannot sort this out. In fact, he makes it clear that the only way to wiggle out of the charge of contradiction is by recourse to equivocation. Of course, Lisle does not draw attention to this nasty tidbit when pontificating about the god he imagines being the necessary basis of logic.

Then we have the “second member” of the “Trinity,” which is supposed to be “Jesus Christ.” According to the Athanasian Creed, this member of the “Trinity” is supposed to be “fully God, fully man.” As I point out in my blog Christianity as the Worship of Contradiction, this means that Jesus is supposed to be both one thing and its logical opposite. The following list, taken from that blog entry, makes this crystal clear:
* God is uncreated, but man is not uncreated
* God is divine, but man is not divine
* God is supernatural, but man is not supernatural
* God is perfect, but man is not perfect
* God is immutable, but man is not immutable
* God is almighty, but man is not almighty
* God is sovereign, but man is not sovereign
* God is omniscient, but man is not omniscient
* God is omnipotent, but man is not omnipotent
* God is omnipresent, but man is not omnipresence
* God is omnibenevolent, but man is not omnibenevolent
* God is infallible, but man is not infallible
* God is infinite, but man is not infinite
* God is eternal, but man is not eternal
* God is immortal, but man is not immortal
* God is incorporeal, but man is not incorporeal
* God is non-physical, but man is not non-physical
* God is immaterial, but man is not immaterial
* God is incorruptible, but man is not incorruptible
* God is indestructible, but man is not indestructible
What could any of this – either the “Trinity” or Jesus as “fully God, fully man” (let alone both!) – have to do with the foundations of logic? The doctrines of the trinity and its second member are marred by internal incoherence, imprecision, reluctance to make a firm commitment, and contradictory notions, making the resignation to “mystery” the only out.

Moreover, none of what Christians affirm here is based on facts which we find by looking outward; when we look outward, we do not find any three-headed gods or a man who is both man and its radical opposite. Rather, we have to look inward, consulting our imaginations, our fantasies, driven in Christianity as they are by the frail mentionings-in-passing found in the sacred storybook, which nowhere contains the word “trinity” in the first place. Lisle’s “account for” logic can only “make sense” if we confuse imagination with reality (and even then, as Frame’s comments point out, we still have to consign it all to “mystery”).

But they refuse to call it anything more than “an apparent contradiction,” saying things like “that which appears contradictory to man because of his finitude is not really contradictory to God” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., p. 229). With “reasoning” like that, one could affirm any contradiction and claim that it’s “not really contradictory to God,” it only “appears contradictory” to us because of our “finitude.” The Christian worldview cannot survive without such obviously anti-logical disclaimers as these, and yet we’re told that the Christian god is the basis of logic? The verdict that Christianity and logic are antipodes is inescapable.

More broadly, we should observe that Lisle has things entirely reversed: he needs to prove that his god exists first and then argue that it is the basis of logic. But once he begins assembling a proof, we can examine it. Where does he get the notion ‘God’ from? By looking outward? No. He summons it from his own imagination.

Game. Set. Match. Lisle’s out.

by Dawson Bethrick


wakawakwaka said...

once again thank you for giving your imput,it seems your refutations just bounce off Lisle's head if they were nothing! "uninformed" is a bit of an understatement!

Steve Greene said...

You wrote, "Lisle has things entirely reversed: he needs to prove that his god exists first and then argue that it is the basis of logic. But once he begins assembling a proof, we can examine it. Where does he get the notion 'God' from? By looking outward? No. He summons it from his own imagination"

Presuppositional apologetics is begging the question. They've taken the dictionary definition of "presuppose" ("to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance") and conjured up the very act of begging-the-question into an argument for their religious belief, with a web of word games constructed around the act to try to hide it. It shows that, as with so many other kinds of rhetoric religious believers use to try to justify their belief, it boils down to 'Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence' and a whole industry of millions of words designed to try to make that appear to be rational.